Local Amish builder constructs most Little Free Libraries
Many people have heard of Little Free Libraries, but did you know most of them are constructed right here in Monroe County?
A major builder for the Little Free Library organization is Henry Miller, an Amish carpenter who lives just outside of Cashton.
Miller owns H&L Rustic Reclaim and he specializes in barn wood furniture. He’s known for his high-quality products, which include bedroom sets, dining room sets, bookshelves and kitchen cabinets.
The founder of the Little Free Libraries, Todd Bol of Hudson, was traveling in the area when he saw a sign for Miller’s business on Highway 27. That was in 2010. Since then, Miller has constructed almost 8,000 Little Free Libraries.
Little Free Libraries has a humble beginning. Bol made a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his late mother, a teacher who loved reading. He placed the little building on a post and filled it with books, encouraging others to “take a book and leave a book.”
It went virtually unnoticed for a while, until his wife, Susan, had a rummage sale. People began commenting on his invention and many people wanted one of their own.
“We realized we had something special,” said Bol.
For a time, he partnered with Rick Brooks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Each one brought a different set of skills to the mix to achieve a common goal, including promoting literacy and community.
To date, there are more than 36,000 Little Free Libraries around the world.
“It brings us together as a community,” said Bol. “It acts as a mini-town square and brings together people who haven’t spoken before.”
People are encouraged to build their own using their imagination, or there are kits available online through littlefreelibrary.org. That’s also where people can order specialized libraries, many of which are made by Miller. There are numerous varieties, including an Amish shed library, a blue tobacco barn, an Amish barn wood cabin, a cozy cottage and many more.
Bol has contracted with Miller longer than any of his other builders.
“His models are desirable. He makes a quality product at a reasonable price,” said Bol.
“We build 24 of the same style at a time and ship them directly to the customer,” said Miller.
With that many libraries being built, plus Miller’s reclaim furniture business, one would expect a large staff.
“I have two full-time employees, and my sister helps out,” said Miller, 29.
The library-building portion of the business took off so much that Miller had to add on. He purchased a semi trailer to use as a spray booth, and eventually bought another one for storage.
It’s likely Miller’s business with Bol will continue for years to come as Bol’s grassroots literacy movement has caught a lot of attention over the past seven years. He’s been featured on NBC Nightly News and NPR, as well as in many newspapers and periodicals including the LA Times, Oprah Magazine, Chicago Tribune and more. Little Free Libraries was ranked #11 on Reader’s Digest’s list of “50 Reasons We Love America”. Bol has even been invited to the White House.
Little Free Libraries has grown exponentially from a model schoolhouse offering free books to a global movement to promote literacy.
“Henry’s libraries are in Africa, Asia, South America,” said Bol.
Whether people build their own or order one, they are encouraged to register with littlefreelibrary.org to receive an official charter number that identifies the library as part of the Little Free Library network. Stewards, as Bol calls library owners, will receive many other benefits by registering their library. People can view locations of registered libraries online.
Despite the fact the majority of the libraries are made near Cashton, there are just a handful of registered libraries in the county. There’s one at 1218 Front St. in Cashton, 211 N. Spring Street and 1020 North St. in Sparta, 204 Main St. in Warrens, and at LaGrange Elementary School in Tomah.